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The West is homeless We're no longer willing to sacrifice our desires

(JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images)


August 10, 2022   10 mins

I was chatting to the log man as we unloaded chunks of dried beech into my driveway from his trailer. Usually he brings me ash, but ash is becoming harder to find now that ash dieback disease, imported into Ireland from Europe, is killing many of the nation’s trees. Our little home plantation, laid down five or six years ago, is not yet mature enough to keep us going for the whole winter, and we need help to make up the shortfall. So, beech it is this year.

“Not easy to get it now though,” he said to me, as we threw the logs into the growing pile. “And there’s a lot of demand this year. Everyone’s worried about the winter.” Given the likely lack of Russian gas across Europe, people are getting nervous and stockpiling heating fuel before autumn. We’ve been stocking up on winter logs this way for years. But the log man knows that his days of delivering little loads of cut timber to households like ours are probably numbered.

“I’ll just keep going till they tell me to stop,” he said. “It’ll happen soon enough.”

The Irish government is currently campaigning against households which burn turf or wood, the former on the grounds of CO2 emissions, and the latter on the grounds of air quality. As ever, the campaign is driven from Dublin, and mostly takes Dublin sensibilities into account. Rural households in Ireland have been burning turf and wood forever, with little significant impact on “air quality” — or at least, no impact comparable to that which Ireland’s “Celtic Tiger” modernisation has had. Suddenly, though, the media is full of scientists armed with studies demonstrating how getting a fire going in your cottage in winter will lead to cancer and lung disease on a widespread scale.

This new tilt against household fireplaces is not just an Irish phenomenon: it is suddenly popping up everywhere. Woodstoves are, curiously, becoming the number one air pollution villain. Never mind mass car use, accelerating air travel or industrial pollution. Never mind the emissions caused by the massive increase in Internet server farms, which within just a few years could be using up an astonishing 70% of this country’s electricity. These days, if you want to demonstrate your social responsibility, you should be all aboard with the abolition of the traditional fireplace and its replacement with “green” alternatives.

Speaking as a former green myself, I’m not without sympathy for at least part of this argument. The mass burning of peat in power stations here, for example, has long been an ecological disaster; one which is, thankfully, coming to an end. Many peat bogs in Ireland have been ravaged over the centuries, and some are now being restored for wildlife, and for use as “carbon sinks”. This is certainly no bad thing. Humans recklessly burning anything in sight on a vast scale is not a story to be defended, no matter how hard some are currently trying.

Something else is happening here, though. The campaign against warming your own house with your own fire is not quite what it claims to be. Sometimes it looks more like a displacement activity, as if a government and a nation which has no interest in actually cutting its consumerist lust down to size is going for an easy target. But it is also something with more symbolism, more mythic meat, than any discussion about “carbon emissions” would suggest. The fireplace, whether our dessicated urban authorities know it or not, has a primal meaning, even in a world as divorced as ours from its roots and from the land.

In his short essay “Fireside Wisdom”, the uncategorisable John Michell suggested that the “displacement of the hearth or fireplace” from the home was one of the many reasons for the craziness of the modern world which his life had been spent playfully exploring. The fireplace at the centre of the home, he wrote, was both an ancient practicality and a device of “cosmological significance” across cultures and time: “Conversation is directed into the fire while dreams and images are drawn out of it.”

In the past, the act of sitting staring into the smoky fire with family or neighbours was the genesis of the folk tale and folk song which tied the culture together. Now we stare at digital fires hemmed into boxes manufactured by distant corporations who also tell us our stories. No song we can dream up around a real fireplace can compete with what these boxed fires can sell us. “Thus,” wrote Michell, “the traditional cosmology is no longer represented by its domestic symbols, and a new, secular, restless, uncentred world-view has taken its place.”

Focus, Michell explained, is “the Latin name for the central fireplace. The fire not only warms but, as a symbol, illuminates the corresponding images of a centre to each of our own beings and of a world-centre which is divine, eternal and unchanging.” Lose your fires, and you literally lose your focus as a culture. In this context, a government spokesman telling his population, as one minister here recently did, that they should “get over” their “nostalgic” attachment to the hearth fire and install ground source heat pumps instead is more than just a nod to efficiency. It is an assault on what remains of the home and its meaning. It is an attack on the cultural — even the divine — centre.

Not that you will get very far explaining that to your local MP.

“Not everyone can afford one of these fancy ground source pumps,” said the log man, as we emptied the last of the trailer. He was right, of course, and many of my neighbours, who at this time of year are hauling tractor trailers full of dried turf back from the bog, would be just as dismissive of the new dispensation. But this is not the real significance of the dying out of the household fire. The real significance is that it represents just the latest blow against the home as the centre of the universe: of the domestic as the cosmological, of the parlour as the place of story.

When you can no longer grow your own wood or cut your own turf to heat your own parlour, you are made that little bit more dependent on the matrix of government, technology and commerce that has sought to transmute self-sufficiency into bondage since the time of the Luddites. The justification for this attack on family and community sufficiency changes with the times — in 17th-century England, the enclosures were justified by the need for agricultural efficiency; today they are justified by the need for energy efficiency — but the attack is always of the same nature. Each blow struck against local self-sufficiency, pride and love of place weaves another thread into the pattern which has been developing for centuries, and which is almost complete now in most affluent countries.

Wendell Berry’s 1980 essay “Family Work” is a short meditation on the meaning of home, its disintegration under the pressures of modernity, and how it might, to some degree at least, be restored. Like so much of Berry’s work, it locates the centrepoint of human society in the home, and explains many of the failures of contemporary Western — specifically American — society as a neglect of that truth. The home, to Wendell Berry, is the place where the real stuff of life happens, or should: the coming-together of man and woman in partnership; the passing-down of skills and stories from elders; the raising and educating of children; the growing, cooking, storing and eating of food; the learning of practical skills, from construction to repair, tool-making to sewing; the conjuration of story and song around the fire.

In my lifetime, in my part of the world, the notion and meaning of ‘home’ has steadily crumbled under external pressure until it is little more than a word. The ideal (post)modern home is a dormitory, probably owned by a landlord or a bank, in which two or more people of varying ages and degrees of biological relationship sleep when they’re not out being employed by a corporation, or educated by the state in preparation for being employed by a corporation. The home’s needs are met through pushing buttons, swiping screens or buying-in everything from food to furniture; for who has time for anything else, or has been taught the skills to do otherwise?

Even back in 1980, Berry recognised that the home had become an “ideal” rather than a practical reality — precisely because the reality had been placed out of reach for many. What killed the home? Three things, said Berry: cars, mass media and public education. The first meant that both work and leisure could, for the first time in history, happen a long way from home. The second — “TV and other media” — have played a role, since the mid-20th century, in luring us all into a fantasy world of freedom from obligation, and a limitless, fun consumer lifestyle. “If you have a TV,” writes Berry, “your children will be subjected almost from the cradle to an overwhelming insinuation that all worth experiencing is somewhere else and that all worth having must be bought.” Finally, the school system is designed “to keep children away from the home as much as possible. Parents want their children kept out of their hair.” Schools exist to train children to fit into individualistic, consumer societies; to internalise and normalise their ethics and goals, and to prepare for a life serving their needs.

What could we add to this list now? Supermarkets, for one, and the whole panoply of long-distance shopping and global supply chains that go along with them. Back in 1980, it can’t have been common to buy avocadoes in winter in the northern hemisphere, let alone endless streams of screen-based gadgets put together by slave labour in China.

We could add “careers” too: and perhaps this is the main culprit. What the Luddites called the “factory system” (we should maybe call it the “office system” now that all the factories have been shipped off to China) was the main reason that the home was broken into in the first place. The pre-modern home was, as few homes are today, a workplace. The Luddites, to stick to my example, were handloom weavers running literal cottage industries, and their rebellion against the rise of industrial capitalism was a rebellion in defence of the home as a place of work as well as domesticity. That work was shared by men and women, who would both have their domestic spheres of influence whatever the particular business of the home was.

In this sense there is a case to be made that the pre-modern woman, working in her home with her husband and family, had in some ways more agency and power than her contemporary counterpart whose life is directed from outside the home by distant commercial interests. Certainly the feminist movement, in at least some of its iterations, has been thoroughly hijacked by capitalism. The “liberation” of women has often translated into the separating of women from their self-sufficiency, as men were separated before them, and their embedding instead into the world of commerce, whether they want it or not.

My point is not that women should get back into the kitchen: it is that we all should. Modernity prised the men away from the home first, as the industrial revolution broke their cottage industries and swept them into the factories and mines, where their brute strength could be useful. Later the women, who had been mostly left to tend the home single-handedly, were subject to the same process. The needs of business were sold to both sexes as a project of “liberation” from home, family and place.

The reason this happened is clear enough. Making a home requires both men and women to sacrifice their own desires for that of the wider family — but this kind of sacrifice does not feed the monster. Only by unmooring the human being from his or her roots in community and place can the emancipated individual consumer and self-creator be born. Only by promoting the fulfilment of individual desire as the meaning of a human life, can the selflessness that we once prized as a cultural ideal be transmuted into the selfishness that capitalism needs to thrive. Liberation and profit, as ever, prove a seamless fit.

Maybe this is all misplaced nostalgia; or at least, the shutting of the stable door long after the horse has been turned into dogmeat. Perhaps people leave homes, or don’t make them, because they just don’t want them much anymore. Maybe we are all loving our liberation. When I was a teenager, I certainly wanted to escape my family and its values — and I did in the end. But I suppose I always assumed there would be something to come back to. That I in my turn would grow up to be the thing that was pushed out of the way so that the world could be opened up before the young. This is how it should be, after all.

But I wonder if we can make those assumptions now. I wonder especially if young people can. How does it feel to grow up in a society whose young can barely afford anywhere to live, let alone dream of owning a family home? With a generational fear of the future which leads increasing numbers not to want families at all? With everything pointing, always, towards movement away, towards not looking back, towards progress? I don’t know, but I know it’s not easy.

The loss of the security of a home is, in some way, the loss of the heart of things. But also — and here comes the good news — the war against home manifests on the human scale, which means we can reverse it, at least to some degree, under our own steam. In these times, any blow struck for the survival, or the revival, of the home and the family is an act of resistance and of rebuilding.

Back in 1980, Wendell Berry ended his essay by suggesting some actions that could be taken in this direction. As well as the obvious — “get rid of the television set” took pride of place — he suggested that we should “try to make our homes centres of attention and interest”; to make them as productive and nurturing as we can. Once you rid yourself of the propaganda of the corporate media-entertainment complex (“a vacuum line, pumping life and meaning out of the household”), you will see new possibilities begin to open up. You will see, in Berry’s words, that “no life and no place is destitute; all have possibilities of productivity and pleasure, rest and work, solitude and conviviality that belong particularly to themselves”, whether in the country, the city or the suburb. “All that is necessary,” he suggests, is “the time and the inner quietness to look for them.”

The “all” in that sentence is doing quite a lot of work — more than ever, perhaps, 40 years on. Time and inner quietness are hard to find, now; but perhaps they always were. Even so, they are worth searching out. Home work is, perhaps, the most important work of all, and it will certainly teach you things. Since we moved to our place eight years ago, I’ve learned — sometimes from choice, sometimes from necessity — a whole suite of new skills, from construction to tree planting, chicken-keeping to breadmaking, hedging to unblocking drains. I’ve learned how to know my neighbours properly, how to stay in a place and begin to really understand it. The choice to homeschool our children has changed our lives and theirs. Certainly our children, in their early- and nearly-teens, are more self-sufficient already than I was by the age of about 25.

Home-making, it turns out, is not something to flee from in pursuit of freedom, as I wanted to do when I was younger. It is a skill, or a whole set of them: a set I have come to value maybe above anything else I do. I am still not very good at it; but even so I feel, on my best days, that I could walk with some of my ancestors and be recognised by them as a fully-qualified human being. Maybe this will turn out to be my greatest achievement, in the end.

A longer version of this essay first appeared at The Abbey of Misrule.


Paul Kingsnorth is a novelist and essayist. His latest novel Alexandria is published by Faber. He also has a Substack: The Abbey of Misrule.


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B Bagdo
B Bagdo
1 year ago

Wonderful article, thank you.

It brings up much bigger point… as a side job (in Berlin, DE) I clean rich people’s apartments (well, not always rich – sometimes just for people who cannot figure out how to clean for themselves…). It is amazing (and I mean – pretty terrifying) to get to know people and their spaces – often very impersonal, full of fancy gadgets and designer furniture (or straight up IKEA hell), looking like some commercial or social media post… Often these are the people who are trying to be “green”, too. I am baffled how deeply many people bought into capitalistic greenness. As if buying more things that are made “sustainably” are making them more sustainable – how about simply not buying?

I don’t even know if I can call these places “home” anymore. Not for the lack of fireplace but for the lack of life fire itself. Television sets are the new fireplaces, really. People are so brainwashed and easy-comforts addicted, they simply don’t have a reference point as to what home is. It is surreal and nauseating.

I think time and quietness is actually easy to find – it is right under our nose, that is – if we put our phones down. A coworker of mine works three days a week and says she has no time to go food shopping (because we all know how fast the time goes by looking at the screen…). People have no interest, but even worse – they have no abilities to take real care of themselves. Whether cooking food or taking care of their house – everything simply comes at a price point that more and more people are willing to pay. I used to hate the fact that I gre up poor in Eastern European country. But these days I am infinitely grateful for what it taught me and what benefits it has afforded me – homecooked meal anyone?

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 year ago
Reply to  B Bagdo

Great thoughts – thanks. The endless pursuit of stuff just doesn’t compare with the “simple pleasures” that existed in previously quieter periods/regions of human existence – but sadly many people seem to have no concept of the joys of connecting to that simplicity.
Many of the available feelings of pleasure are surely embedded in the human psyche via a million years of evolution – but most people’s conscious brains seem to only function across the timeline of the latest fad.
As an aside (or maybe not) I’m writing this while the only noise I can hear is the sound of the wind gently passing through the nearby trees – which is more than enough to make me happy.

Last edited 1 year ago by Ian Barton
Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Indeed there are plenty of academic studies that establish that enjoying natural green spaces contributes to happiness, mood and earlier recovery from surgery, and recent studies suggest exercise is a more effective remedy for depression than pills or counselling.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 year ago
Reply to  B Bagdo

I’m always baffled by the people paying a fortune to pound a treadmill in an expensive gym when it’s lovely outside. This must be the pinnacle of our uprooted societal madness. I mean – we live in a great city with any number of green spaces…why not go and run in them FOR FREE? And if we’re having a conversation about the nuttiness modernity generally then we could of course address the issue of how, in times gone by, these people wouldn’t have to run after work to keep fit…they’d probably be active enough all day doing their work (in the fields?) that that would suffice.
Whatever. As a big fan of running and walking for the price of a decent pair of trainers, I look at those gym bunnies in their expensive air-conditioned caves and think: “oh dear”.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Indeed! I get a wry smile on my face when I contemplate how people hire other humans to cook, clean, fix and tend to the lawn, yet they drive 20 minutes to the gym for “exercise”.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

Yes, my son is a keen gym bunny but seems strangely reluctant to do a little vigorous housework.

Jake Prior
Jake Prior
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

I get what you’re saying, but at the same time, why do you care about other people’s exercise choices? I often prefer the treadmill for various reasons – it’s easier on my knees, I can accurately gauge the speed I’m running to set progressive improvements, I like to combine running and weight training and calisthenics into one workout, so it makes sense to do it all in the gym, I often see familiar faces down the gym and have few other social opportunities, and my home showering set-up leaves a lot to be desired, so coming back from what is often a cold, wet run where I live to an unpleasant cold damp shower isn’t attractive. I spend much time outside tending to my own little woodland so I don’t have any great need for more time in nature. The thrust of the article is that we be left to decide for ourselves as far as possible to decide on the true priorities of life, and to be fair he does suggest just focusing on making your own home a reflection of your values, but it’s very easy, as in judging people for running on a treadmill when you don’t know their circumstances, to fall into the flaw you wish to expose. When I see someone running, be it on a treadmill or outside, I think “good on them, at least trying to do something for their own health, full power to you.” As Bob Dylan put it, “in a soldiers stance I aimed my hand at the mongel dogs who teach, fearing not I’d become my enemy in the instant that I preach.”

Last edited 1 year ago by Jake Prior
Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago
Reply to  B Bagdo

Wonderful response, but I don’t agree that capitalism is to blame.

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
1 year ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

Not quite sure how you can say it is wonderful if you don’t accept the central tenet of the article. By capitalism we don’t mean a market where you buy and sell things, we mean the vast unaccountable financialised system which chases growth & profit at the expense of everything else. We mean the rootless consumerist hell based only on monetary worth. This is what Paul Kingsnorth has in mind.

B Bagdo
B Bagdo
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

Hmmm, I am not quite sure how my comment shows you that I “don’t accept the central tenet of the article”.
I can find something wonderful (poetic, insightful, multifaceted) without having to 1) echo the same ideas in my comment and 2) fully agree with what was said (although that is not the case). It’s a bit like this – I find, for example, reconstructive facial surgeries “wonderful” (as a human innovation) but don’t think that every person needs to have access to a nose job – but this is far from the topic of the article. Anyway. Comment section is for sharing thoughts sometimes more personal and less directly related to the article. So yeah, I can find something wonderful and not share exact same sentiments.

Maybe this is my non-native English that separates how we both see and interpret what is written but I also want to share another opinion with you here. Besides the obvious need for trading goods and important/vital services, I (in my opinion) don’t think there is a reason to separate the “unaccountable financialised system” from the “market where you buy and sell things”. Buying fire wood from privat person or going to the dentist or buying groceries is necessary, but we also are making many decisions in our everyday personal lives that are totally unnecessary. I do think every personal choice we make affects this “unaccountable financialised system”. It’s every personal choice of 8 bln people and in the end it is not so personal and affects us all (and yes I am well aware that many of us can’t make or can’t afford to make other choices). I see capitalism as permeating everyone’s psyche. We live in the world where entrepreneurialism is a virtue and making yourself into a brand is a new normal. Thoughts about financial growth are shared by every person I know without any recognition that such growth comes at a cost of environment and their own personal life.

I do strongly believe that if everyone would put their images-creating/images-translating devices down (things that affect us deeply and create phantom needs that drive us into various consumptions), the “unaccountable financial system” would slowly collapse. If no one is recharging it, it cannot survive. It is all made by people, ran by people, supported by people.

As I find the topic very interesting as well as your comment, maybe, if you think I’m somehow wrong in my thinking, you would mind elaborating a bit?

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
1 year ago
Reply to  B Bagdo

Wasn’t actually replying to you but to Warren Trees comment: “Wonderful response, but I don’t agree that capitalism is to blame.”

B Bagdo
B Bagdo
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

Oh, haha. Well damn, pardon my french 🙂 must be the heatwave.

Jake Prior
Jake Prior
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

And perfectly reasonable for Bagdo to respond, whether you were replying directly to them, or on a comment referring to them. Or indeed in an open comments thread, not referring to them at all.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

Unfettered capitalism has unquestionably created the most improved living standards for more people than any system known to mankind. Yes, it has gotten out of control in recent decades by government ineptitude and attempts to create windfalls for the elite, but the concept of capitalism is not the root cause. I would most certainly prefer this system with worts and all vs. a totalitarian or Marxist regime.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
1 year ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

Curious term “Living Standards”.. you’d have to define “living” for me. Do you mean existing? doing less (enjoyabkw? fulfilling?) work?” Maybe I’m being pedantic but it’s worth considering isn’t it?
Also, the notion that the only alternative to modern capitalism is Marxism is also highly questionable. For millennia money (capital) was for the few: the many living more or less fully self-sufficient lives as hinted at by PK. You could hardly call that “capitalism”. I fully believe we will have to revert to something like it with locally (if not self-) produced heat power, food and homebuilding (or at least home enhancement including self-installed simple insulation, eg sheep’s wool, external wood cladding etc. Then like the Brexiteers hoped for, we really will be taking back control!

àČ°àČ€àł€àČ·àł àŽȘàŽżàŽ·àŽŸàŽ°àŽŸàŽż
àČ°àČ€àł€àČ·àł àŽȘàŽżàŽ·àŽŸàŽ°àŽŸàŽż
1 year ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

I disagree. Capitalism has improved the living standards for people by making non-people out of the others. It has done that within the same country many times, and then by exporting the poverty elsewhere with Imperialism. The net result is that when we are told it has improved living standards, we, as in me and you are in the group that survived this road-roller called Capitalism. But that does not mean it was good, but anyone it has affected is dead, or extinct as in some species. So who is left to complain. A few here and there? The bus will go over them too. Then me and you eventually. Also, to think that “if not Capitalism, then what?” and quickly pick a regime or totalitarianism is to not see the whole picture.

Yendi Dial
Yendi Dial
1 year ago
Reply to  B Bagdo

Everywhere I lived, the cleaning ladies who come once a week all told me how rare it is to see home made meals, and so much I clean despite my handicap. I grew up poor in Paris, and now it is a strength.

Jeremy Poynton
Jeremy Poynton
1 year ago

The fireplace at the centre of the home, he wrote, was both an ancient practicality and a device of “cosmological significance” across cultures and time: “Conversation is directed into the fire while dreams and images are drawn out of it.”

The Romans knew this. Lares and Penates. And it is part of what the late, much lamented Sir Roger Scruton spoke of when he coined the word “oikophobia”, meaning the opposite of this – that is, active hatred of one’s own country, as practiced by our (anything but) “Liberal” classes for a many a decade. So many that Orwell noted it clearly.
We’d be happy for the “anywheres” to **** off anywhere. Anywhere but here.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Poynton

Yes, a very profound article from Paul, as always. My parents still have an open fire and an almost endless supply of wood, so that’s good.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

That’s good because picking up say a 10kg bag of ‘real’ COAL from a Service Station is now banned by the Green Reichsfuhrer, and his/her minions.

Last edited 1 year ago by CHARLES STANHOPE
Jeremy Poynton
Jeremy Poynton
1 year ago

And hilariously, their renowned Energiewende is now reliant on Lignite Coal, the filthiest there is.

Selwyn Jones
Selwyn Jones
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Poynton

Yes, I thought of Scruton, too. But I also thought of Eric Kaufman, who has described the movement inflicting all this upon as as “Left-Modernist”. And for such a “movement”, with its Mao-like hatred of tradition, home, identity, gender roles and nation states – of all that has hitherto constituted nature and humanity (and in fact still does) – the attack on the hearth is perhaps the whole point. One must never forget that the Left-Modernist regards all these things as “constructs”, “ideology” to be done away with. The result will be Hell, of course, but such is the “critical” and “hate-filled” turn of the “Left-Modernist” mind, that the result is of no importance. They just want to destroy.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago
Reply to  Selwyn Jones

I have found a numberplate for sail GA55 GUZ and in my dreams I would love to buy it and affix it to an old 4.5 litre diesel Toyota Landcruiser….

Jeremy Poynton
Jeremy Poynton
1 year ago
Reply to  Selwyn Jones

My first reaction when woke crazed kids hit the streets was …. oh look, our own Red Guard.

Nor have I seen any reason to change my mind. These indoctrinated fanatics don’t want “justice”, they want revenge on all this responsible for …. what?

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Poynton

But consumerist capitalism is fine!

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago
Reply to  Selwyn Jones

Perhaps we need to wait until the next generation decides to deconstruct the tradition of the iPhone.

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
1 year ago
Reply to  Selwyn Jones

You ok with the anti–capitalist side of the argument too? PK is as anti the absurdities of ®free market capitalism‘ as he is so called ®leftist modernismˋ. He is as against driving around in those ridiculous SUVs as he is the nonsense of transgenderism. Unherd readers tend not to mention that, its all just the endless anti woke-stuff. Íˋm as anti woke as the next man but the real damage is done by the capitalist consumerist machine that relentlessly destroys all in its path.

Selwyn Jones
Selwyn Jones
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

Totally untrue. Unlike the command economy, the free market is susceptible of subtle formation to fruitful ends – as in border control and low migration. As for wider issues of supply and demand, any socialistic attempt to sustain unviable industries will do no more than put off the evil day and make it worse. The trick, therefore, is to have a workforce so well trained that it can adapt; and for this you need a selective and NOT a “comprehensive” education system. Britain was in poll position to achieve this degree of functioning efficiency when Labour snuffed out schooling in 65 – all part of its essentially hard left egalitarian agenda. The Tories rescued us from rustbucket industry and appalling public service in many areas, but not – alas – health, which is ripe for Euro-style privatisation along the lines of social insurance. Look with honesty upon the situation and you will see that a) the market is the basis of an efficient economy; b) it can be shaped by cultural forces; c) that these are nationalist, not socialist; d) that the Labour party opposes these truths and does maximal damage – education, immigration, health; e) that the Conservatives offer the best remedies when at their most right wing – Thatcher and Powell and f) that sadly they are usually too cowardly.

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
1 year ago
Reply to  Selwyn Jones

You still seem stuck in the free-market capitalism vs. Statist command economy, dichotomy. The thrust of PKs arguments here and elsewhere is that both these options are dead. The whole idea of an ‘efficient economy’ gives the game away. Globalisation is the ultimate ‘efficient economy’ but it leads to the destruction of communities, human tradition and environments. It produces a homogenised culture where monetary value ends up being the only value. That’s what economic efficiency means. It is utterly naive to think rampant capitalism cares about family, tradition and community- such concepts are a barrier to economic efficiency. You are a very long way from Paul Kingsnorth. Read his article “How the Left fell for Capitalism” 5/7/22

Last edited 1 year ago by Martin Butler
Selwyn Jones
Selwyn Jones
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

Correction: he is a very long way from truth. So are you. Hence your recourse to easy polarities – statism versus globalism – not even supplying a middle way. I do supply it – with a strong bias to the market, but with important safeguards – ie, immigration control. Demography and descent are key to culture, which is in turn the key to keeping a country as a home. And the advantage of this – which the left will call “bourgeois capitalism” as distinct from their own global caricature – is that it has been tried before – and works! Read the collected speeches of J. Enoch Powell.

Realist 77
Realist 77
1 year ago
Reply to  Selwyn Jones

I come from a small north-western town called Newton le Willows. Once their was a locomotive works, print works and two coal mines. A community. Now it’s it’s just zombies. Either on benefits or office drones commuting to the cities buying takeaways and always staring at their smartphones . I was one. Now trying to slowly release the corporate noose from my neck. On a 3-day working week and reigning in spending. Brewing my own beer, growing vegetables at my allotment, home cooking, buying local produce and reading books from the library. Just need a log fire. Reclaim yourself.

Mark Vernon
Mark Vernon
1 year ago

I share a lot of these sentiments and the analysis of focus. But I think it’s important to realise that the pre-modern “home” was much more porous than we might imagine and nothing like the nuclear form which is a modern creation; with extended and mixed families common due to early deaths and remarriage; and all that embedded in a wide-reaching and mixed relational ecology of loyalties and bonds, from guilds and sworn friendships to fealty and sacred vows. If there were a centre to this, it was transcendent, felt and known in the immanence of buzzing connections.

Such an extended vision is worth rehearsing as it offers hope for the cosmopolitanism of now, inviting an opening up, horizontally and vertically, as much as resistance, with nostalgic risks.

James Anthony Seyforth
James Anthony Seyforth
1 year ago
Reply to  Mark Vernon

Exactly it was an intergenerational, inter-woven net of life and unfortunately death. It was more chaotic perhaps but more open to the possibilities of time well spent. And Although I’m sure there were households no modern person could tolerate no matter how nostalgic, the analog nature of it all would be liberating for many of us.

Brian O'Grady
Brian O'Grady
1 year ago

Ahhh this article reminded me of a funny incident I witnessed on RTE (Irish) NEWS way back in the 1980s.
There was some huge storm coming in from the Atlantic and it was so serious that the weatherman was sitting in the seat next to the newscaster to discuss it.
At one point he said something along the lines of “Yes but hopefully it will have lost most of its power by the time it reaches Dublin”
No one blinked or reacted. And I just sat there thinking “did he really just say what I just heard!!?”

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
1 year ago
Reply to  Brian O'Grady

Yes, and wasn’t there a Dublin politician a few years ago who stated publicly that tourists should stay in Dublin and stop visiting rural counties, especially Donegal. And you get those regular outbursts from Irish green party members, advising everyone, including rural folk, to give up their cars – seemingly oblivious that they’re preaching to people who have next to no public transport.

Cobbler 91
Cobbler 91
1 year ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

It does make me laugh that politicians and local authorities make no to little effort to provide even vaguely decent public transport and yet keep wondering why people still drive more or less everywhere. It’s a similar disease to those who obstruct developments in their local area but lament the fact their children can’t afford to buy a family sized house like they did.

Annemarie Ni Dhalaigh
Annemarie Ni Dhalaigh
1 year ago
Reply to  Brian O'Grady

Haha

Last edited 1 year ago by Annemarie Ni Dhalaigh
Richard Abbot
Richard Abbot
1 year ago

Thank you Paul. All true, but hardly new. As mentioned by others, the TV has been the fireplace for decades now. I wonder how many more examples of the illusion of progress it’s going to take for people to wake up and see how far we have fallen?

Last edited 1 year ago by Richard Abbot
Betsy Arehart
Betsy Arehart
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Abbot

The TV used to be a family gathering place.

Christopher Bradley
Christopher Bradley
1 year ago

In my teenage years, I knew I was independant when I lit my first fire.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago

What i particularly admired about this wonderful essay was it’s inclusion of ambiguity, or an alternative narrative. So many articles these days are simply didactic, but Paul avoids this by his inclusion of thoughts about the move away from the familial home, which he recognises as essential to growth as an individual. In fact, the essay has many, many layers, like the accretion of wood or coal in a fireplace with the lower layers continuing to glow and feed the new additions – to nourish them, even.
Fire is, of course, elemental. It’s utilisation as a source of warmth and cooked food is as old as the human story and may even be it’s prime factor as people first gathered around to form smaller, intimate communities. As a child of the 60s, i grew up with a coal fire and the advent of television and how that change of focus occurred. It’s still recent history, and yet there are generations now born who will have little inkling of it’s value.
Paul refers to households containing two or more people but the increasing trend (or so it seems to me) is the household of one. During the pandemic, this was brought into stark focus as isolation replaced the ability to commune when desired. That, however, reminded us all how much we’re interdependent. Suddenly, and for other reasons too, supply chains and the more local ‘making of things’ has assumed greater value although of course the economies of scale will to some extent decline – what price inflation?
In the end, what i loved about the essay comes back to it’s multi-layeredness, in addition to Paul’s usual stylish prose which at times seems to hanker towards poetry. Just one more example – his thoughts around the role of women: in the home; in work; in society and how these have been affected by the changes away from the home & hearth as a focal point. Perhaps, instead of using the term Progress, we should find an alternative which signifies the changes that will inevitably occur over time – increasingly more speedily – but without signifying something necessarily positive. And perhaps, its use to describe the tribe of Progressives will lead to its abandonment. There’s hope – plenty of it!

Last edited 1 year ago by Steve Murray
Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Stats from ONS on household size fyi:

The number of people living alone in the UK has increased by 8.3% over the last 10 years; in 2021, the proportion of one-person households ranged from 25.8% in London to 36.0% in Scotland

Jeff Butcher
Jeff Butcher
1 year ago

I enjoyed this article and share many of its values but I really don’t want to return to pre industrial Britain which for many was nasty, brutish and short. I think that to a certain extent the lifestyle Paul describes is itself a product of modernity, and progress is, as ever, a double edged sword.
While Paul’s children may benefit from being at home I’m sure he would not hesitate to fall back on industrial civilisation if one if them became seriously Ill.

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

I always think about dentists when people bang on about the wholesome life of our ancestors. OK, they didn’t suffer from our obsession with sugary additives, but even so
 PK is right about the Machine and its malevolence, but there are prices to pay for simplicity.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

He’s the kind of nostalgist that Remainers think Brexiteers are.

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

Yes – it’s easy to see both sides. The west has lost something important with regards to belonging and family but has also gain much in term of longevity, health care and wider opportunities. The question is whether we can have it both ways. I think it is possible. Those on the left believe it is consumer capitalism that is culpable for the destruction, those on the right believe it is liberal values and ‘wokeism’. But as PK has noted elsewhere, they can be seen as two sides of the same coin. See “How the left fell for capitalism.”

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

ahhh… maybe dried eco green sandaloids would make the perfect fuel for the fireplace at home, kindled by torn up pieces of the governments zero emissions ‘ policy?

Claire D
Claire D
1 year ago

I like my kitchen, within reason. I spend quite a lot of time there very happily, cooking, eating, chatting, arguing, doing the laundry, studying, writing and just sitting gazing out at the garden thinking. It is the centre of our home.
I don’t think capitalism highjacked the feminist movement though it certainly makes as much out of it as it can. I think feminism developed out of industrialisation and capitalism in the same way that Marx did. The Industrial Revolution brought about conditions which led inevitably to a thinker like Marx to come along and offer a solution, right or wrong, to the problem of the industrial worker’s exploitation in the 19th century. Feminism is allied to Marxism, it is’nt some kind of natural human progression liberating women from their kitchens, if anything it is anti-human by undermining relationships and the family.
Having said that we are where we are and I agree with most of what Philip Kingsnorth says. Great article.

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
1 year ago
Reply to  Claire D

Yes, but there is a great difference between working in your kitchen because you choose to be there, doing that work, as part of a family that cares for each other, and being obligated to work in the kitchen, doing work you hate for family members you fear and dislike and who treat you poorly, because the alternatives are even worse.

Claire D
Claire D
1 year ago

Of course, it is agency that makes all the difference to each and every one of us, woman or man.
There are still plenty of people today who do not or feel as if they do not have agency over their lives. One of the main causes of unhappiness I should think. But I don’t believe feminism was or is the answer to feelings of powerlessness, which both men and women experience.

That’s the point of part of my comment, that industrialisation and capitalism (following on from apprenticeships, indentured service, obligation to your lord etc, prior to industrialisation) continue to take away many people’s agency, there’s always something we must do if we are to survive. Marxism and feminism are two (optional) responses to that, but I don’t think either bring about a happier situation. On the contrary.

It is an ongoing problem for mankind I think, to find a way of living that is least likely to make us unhappy. For me my faith is the answer.

We are very fortunate (at present) to while away our time on these ideas, the Ukrainians are not so lucky.

Last edited 1 year ago by Claire D
Claire D
Claire D
1 year ago

I will add, for me the scenario of misery you describe has overtones of some Victorian melodrama rather than having any basis in real life, except occasionally, maybe.

Women of all classes have been wonderfully resourceful throughout history, not the perpetual victims of the feminist imagination.

Rachael Round
Rachael Round
1 year ago

And our children and youth have appalling mental health problems- is this connected to the lack of home?

Javier Quinones
Javier Quinones
1 year ago

Sacrifice is a meaningless word because of its politicization and what Michael Easter calls The Comfort Crisis. I’m glad I’ll be dead before our collective stupidity catches up to us


Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 year ago

Unpleasant remark. I am hoping that this was some sort of joke that went awry.

Shikuesi
Shikuesi
1 year ago

It may just be that T.O. is hinting that the world can do without yet another pessimist. But only they can clarify.

Betsy Arehart
Betsy Arehart
1 year ago

Mean, mean, MEAN!!!

Jim R
Jim R
1 year ago

Population density has much to do with the ‘progress’ that is being forced on us. Away from urban centers, the smoke from the odd wood fire is no big deal – something that you just occasionally smell on the wind. When people in cities light up their fireplaces the air becomes toxic. Have you ever been in a city in the developing world when the temperature drops and all the wood, kerosene and coal fires get lit? And then of course there’s CO2 and diminishing resources to factor in. As the population grows and gets more densely packed, we eventually will have no choice. I often think of the Kurt Vonnegut short story where he imagines a future planet overwhelmed with people, old age and death eradicated by science, multiple generations stuffed into tiny apartments fighting over every square foot and eating processed seaweed. On the other hand the human race’s desire to reproduce does seem to be starting to subside – perhaps because our adaptations are making our lives more and more meaningless?

Jones Sixty
Jones Sixty
1 year ago

Thanks Paul. POI: women (and children under 10) were banned from working in mines in Britain in 1842 and only in 1874 in France – see Germinal. It seems likely Ireland was covered by the 1842 law but there may have been an exception…?

Jacqueline Walker
Jacqueline Walker
1 year ago
Reply to  Jones Sixty

Children wouldn’t have been working in mines in Ireland as there were very few – the Industrial Revolution largely passed Ireland by, I think most historians would say it never happened here at all and the rural urban split of population well into the last century was still that of a largely agrarian country.

Ben Dhonau
Ben Dhonau
1 year ago

You’re wrong about that. Ireland had a significan number of mines both coal and metal in the 19th Century.

Ben Dhonau
Ben Dhonau
1 year ago
Reply to  Jones Sixty

There was no exception. I a proud of the part I played in getting the prohibition on women working in mines repealed

Richard Barnes
Richard Barnes
1 year ago

On the other hand, I find that owing to changes in working patterns and the convenience of internet delivery services, my wife and I are spending more time at home than ever before.
And here in the English countryside there is (currently) no problem in getting hold of wood and setting fire to it, although it has to be said that the cheapest logs have sold out locally and only the more expensive kiln-dried stuff is still in stock.

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Barnes

It’s not legal to sell wood that isn’t kiln-dried, since a year or so ago. That’ll be why.

Richard Barnes
Richard Barnes
1 year ago

Not quite – it’s illegal to sell wood that isn’t “ready to burn”, which means has a moisture content lower than 20%. The cheapest logs now are seasoned logs that aren’t kiln-dried.

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àČ°àČ€àł€àČ·àł àŽȘàŽżàŽ·àŽŸàŽ°àŽŸàŽż
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Barnes

Personally, I think there is much more to read here than merely “being to stay at home”. I don’t think that would be the definition of home. Because if it is, then it is very limiting. Very technical. My physical being, finding myself in the same place as a building, along with my wife is not home. I think the definition of home is larger here, in the context of this article. It is a microcosm of the planet itself, it is life itself. That cannot and should not be reduced to the idea of the mere physicality of being at home and then getting everything delivered there thanks to modern choices.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
1 year ago

Very good article, thank you very much

Graham Strugnell
Graham Strugnell
1 year ago

Many people are now working from home and reconnecting with their hearth, and certainly not missing hours spent on expensive, polluting and time-corroding commuting. Not all homework is ennobling, however: you only have to read Silas Marner to understand that, or Great Expectations to know that the corollary of the honest toil of the blacksmith is unlettered ignorance, or of the weaver, being subject to local suspicion and isolation. But yes: home has been atomised, domestic skills are regarded with suspicion (hence the rise and rise of ready meals and people who need Delia to tell them how to boil and egg) and so on. Our post-Christian world view doesn’t help: I think faith-based cultures (as in Italy) maintain the centrality of home, the family and the meal much better than lazy Brits who graze in front of the TV or snack and skip meals, and who seldom see their kith and kin and have parked mum in a care home. But I don’t think all this should be a reason to lump in (as some commentators have done) a kind of anti-green agenda that associates caring about clear air and global warming with a woke conspiracy or governmental bullying. We are now globally interconnected beings, as we were not in the past: like it or not, we now know our devices and actions and shopping choices and fuel consumption preferences have repercussions, not just for us, but for every person, insect and creature on earth. The hearth is now global in a way it never was. There are still too many who defend their solipsistic choices as their ‘rights’, sometimes enshrining a nostalgia for what never was as a justification for not wanting to make sacrifices for the social good of all.

Jim Davis
Jim Davis
1 year ago

Ah, remembering the “good old days.” So much to be said for the simpler life of the past, where being in a family meant you lived together, ate together, laughed and learned together, and sometimes worked together.
When I first went looking to buy a house in Los Angeles about 38 years ago, the real estate agent continuously showed me properties that she thought were “good investments.” I kindly and gently explained to her that I was not looking for an investment, but rather a “home” for myself, my wife and our two young sons. But she did not understand, so we parted ways. I found my “home,” and later another.
If I could I would be buried on the property, like the grand children’s pet guinea pig, just because of the memories of Thanksgiving, Christmas, family dinners, weddings, and many other family and friend events over the years. My children are long gone but still talk about “coming home” and our grandchildren talk about coming to visit Granddaddy and Halmoni (Korean for grandmother).
But as for the statement “Humans recklessly burning anything in sight on a vast scale is not a story to be defended,” I would argue that but for our primitive ancestors learning to tame fire, none of us would be here. And I love my fireplaces, outdoor fire pits, and barbecue grills…likely left over Neanderthal or Homo Sapiens heritage.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago

“Only by promoting the fulfilment of individual desire as the meaning of a human life, can the selflessness that we once prized as a cultural ideal be transmuted into the selfishness that capitalism needs to thrive.”
Although I thoroughly enjoyed this article and most others by Mr. Kingsnorth, I hardly agree that somehow capitalism is at fault here, just as I believe that capitalism is not to be faulted for all the car and plane accidents that take place. Capitalism has improved the human condition immeasureably over the last century. Humans alone chose to be selfish.

Neven Curlin
Neven Curlin
1 year ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

The problem is perhaps not capitalism per se, but the idea that capitalism is or ought to be limitless (so that wealth concentration too can be limitless).

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
1 year ago
Reply to  Neven Curlin

Think that’s built into capitalism.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago
Reply to  Neven Curlin

There is no doubt that corruption exists in all systems. But if an entrepreneur brings to market, at his/her own financial risk, a product or service that others are willing to pay for, why is limitless wealth an issue under a free market? Would it be better to not have the innovation, breakthrough medical device or game changing technology? I don’t recall seeing such innovation under Stalin, Mussolini or in North Korea, Argentina, Cuba or throughout the Middle East and Africa. Perhaps there is a reason why people attempt to flea these places as soon as they scrape up enough funds to do so, which is very few. That’s if they are even allowed to leave.

James Kirk
James Kirk
1 year ago

Interesting article thank you. From my point of view it misses the point when poor people end up, apocalypse style, burning furniture to keep warm and cook food, of which there will be little because some silly autistic Swedish schoolgirl appealed to dimwitted 21st Century fools who hadn’t considered the consequences of their second hand received opinions; and cared less. Stop listening to spoilt children, yet to add to the human condition through ignorance.

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
1 year ago
Reply to  James Kirk

Not so much the schoolgirl as the IPCC, I suspect. Always interested to hear a detailed rebuttal of the latter’s views, but rarely get anything useful in that regard on otherwise-interesting UnHerd.

Ben Dhonau
Ben Dhonau
1 year ago

I’m sorry but I find this extreme nostalgia pretty weird. We are in far better health and have far higher standards of living than even fifty years ago. Most people do not want open fires which really are polluting and unhealthy. Bronchitis was a chronic disease because of them. I remember open solid fuel fires when I was a child and the drudgery involved. If you feel you must have an open fire, get a gas-powered one for now.

Ian Morris
Ian Morris
1 year ago
Reply to  Ben Dhonau

Yes I agree with that. I grew up in West Yorkshire when coal fires were common. All the buildings were literally black. No doubt many of the carbon particles ended up in our lungs too. However I have little quarrel with gas or petrol power. The CO2 from these does not drive climate change, so much of the nonsense about fossil fuels can be ignored. But pollution from coal was definitely real and bad.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 year ago
Reply to  Ben Dhonau

It’s funny seeing how many Unherd commenters love this blinkered nostalgic view of the past. Even really clever people can deceive themselves.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
1 year ago

High personal debt (the norm) means less ‘free’ time which means less quiet home/child time which means higher anxiety/stress. A cycle that few can avoid unless very mindful, childless and lowly indebted. High indebtedness equals a serfdom to the financial/corporate system which aimed for our souls and now truly owns them. Escape , flee back to the best level of self sufficiency you can manage- the better to limit the insidious tentacles of the financial/corporate vampire that seeks to feast on your lifeblood. And now your recent $800k mortgage rate is going to steadily climb until your blood pressure is elevated and the home has become a frustrated stressfest and the wife/kids are revolting as you struggle to keep your feet on the ever speeding rat race……………………………Thankfully I am old enough to not have bought into that scenario too much – but that did not happen without a hell of a lot of planning and some luck …I feel for the younger homo sapiens who have bought the dominant reality.

Jason Highley
Jason Highley
1 year ago

I loved reading this. Thank you!

Michael Sinclair
Michael Sinclair
1 year ago

Anyone here followed the anti consummerist John Zerzan over the years? After the ‘twin towers’ he made a short film in which George Bush junior said in a clip ” we gotta get these terrorists – they’re stopping us from shopping” – the clip was repeated! Zerzan’s view was different, he said we are terrorised by shopping. How true to my mind – and about much else as this article suggests.

Bruce V
Bruce V
1 year ago

“the matrix of government, technology and commerce”
“the shutting of the stable door long after the horse has been turned into dogmeat”
Ha, love these 2 sentences.

Last edited 1 year ago by Bruce V
Tom Watson
Tom Watson
1 year ago

75 comments already but I wanted to add one more: this was brilliant and wise.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
1 year ago

For some primal reason I see a newly built house without a chimney as incomplete. I’m old enough to remember a (rare) home without electricity using oil lamps for light and an open fire for heat and cooking, water drawn by bucket from a well. I live in a log cabin with just an electric real-looking fire – I craved a stove but I’m getting old: also gotta be green I s’pose.
I remember the “open house” ..neighbours simply let themselves in, guaranteed a cuppa, home-made sida bread and a good chat! Sadly gone now: I blame the TV and the smart phone is 100 times worse!

Jon Walmsley
Jon Walmsley
1 year ago

I suppose if we want to get rid of our tellies, we ought really to get rid of all screen-based gadgets including our phones, tablets and computers – in fact, this very computer I am currently staring at right now and typing this comment on in response to an always thoughtful essay by Mr Kingsnorth, which of course I would not be able to read if I was an actual Luddite. In fact, I doubt I’d know who Mr Kingsnorth was at all and about his generally very cheery outlook on the current condition of the human condition.
Maybe that would be for the best actually…
Nah, just kidding! He makes many very valid points as ever about the loss of individual and communal independence from ‘Big Government’ as represented very appropriately in the diminishment or outright excision of the hearth in the home – Hestia begone! As ever though, after finishing one of his pieces, I always leave off feeling a bit concerned for the guy – that the whole weight of human endeavour and its current malaise is always such a heartfelt woe for him!
Perhaps calling it an ‘obsession’ would be a more appropriate descriptor – at least in this written form; I do not have an insight into his day-to-day existence of course, but certainly in his essays, one always gets the impression Mr Kingsnorth might have preferred living in a different century entirely, certainly pre-capitalist and pre-industrial, though I’m less certain on his views about current healthcare standards – still, whatever century it might be, I’m sure he’d critique it all the same! Some of us are just made to worry – to the point of distraction – about the ‘state of society’ I suppose, regardless of the state it is in!

Last edited 1 year ago by Jon Walmsley
Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 year ago

Yeah let’s chuck everything backwards 50 years when it was great for me.
What nonsense. These are the best times EVER for the vast vast majority of humanity.

Actually on second thoughts

is this article taking the mick? If so, it’s hilarious – and fooled loads of Unherd readers too.

Last edited 1 year ago by Ian Stewart